Here Kitty, Kitty…June is Adopt a Cat Month!
By Alberta Frost
June is a month with many commemorations ranging from Flag Day to National Flip Flop Day. Two of the most notable are Father’s Day and Adopt a Cat Month. I pair these two recognitions because when I was about three my father got me my first cat. This creature was a tiny puff of black fur that my Dad brought home in his pocket. It must have been a winter day because one of the first pictures I have of Fluffy (original name, right?) is of this little face peeking out from halfway up our Christmas tree. I don’t remember what instructions my parents gave me about handling this little dynamo or if I was given any responsibility for his care, but I do remember the intense feeling of companionship I carried with me as my family and Fluffy moved from place to place over the next few years. Long after he was gone, he engendered in me a devotion to animals, especially cats.
Admittedly, I am biased regarding whether families with young children should adopt a pet – or more specifically, a cat, and there is lots of research that supports my experience. According to Catnip (Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine), pets make all of us – from the youngest to the most senior – healthier in mind and body. Children living with pets not only learn a sense of responsibility, but they also develop stronger, healthier immune systems. Other sources suggests that pets contribute to the development of compassion, language skills and a feeling of competence. In an article published in Practical Parenting, Dr. Jo Righetti identifies several benefits from cat ownership. Among them: cats help children nurture and learn respect and patience; and cats are quiet listeners and give unconditional acceptance. A benefit to both parents and kids, cats are easier to care for than many other species.
Even though there are benefits to pet/cat ownership, there are still many factors to consider before adopting, including the lifestyle of your family and the age and temperament of your children. This assessment then leads to the age and temperament of the cat you should be looking for. Most experts agree that young families may not be the best match for kittens (or puppies). Kittens are fragile and they have not yet learned their manners. Their little teeth and claws can be quite sharp, and they still view the world as one big chew toy. Plus, they require more work. According to the Humane Society, puppies and kittens under 6 months are best matched with families where the youngest child is at least 7 years old. A one or two-year old cat is still playful, but it is beyond the baby stage and its personality may be more evident.
Even if your children are older and have been promising to take care of whatever cat you adopt, parents should also realize that most of the care will fall on them. Kids should be given caregiving tasks, but young children should not be cleaning the kitty litter or be totally responsible for your pet’s food and water.
So, if you do decide to adopt, how do you pick the best cat for your family? First, think about your children’s current capabilities. Second, listen to the adoption counselors at the shelter or rescue group where you plan to adopt. If it is a competent rescue, they will ask you questions about yourself and your kids. Don’t think of this as intrusive but rather as trying to help identify the best cat for you. In addition, some questions you can ask them are: Where did this cat come from? Does this cat get along with people? Has the cat ever been around kids? Does the cat ever exhibit any signs of aggression or fear? Especially, if you have young children, what you want is a cat that is friendly, calm and likes to be petted — but not necessarily picked up. I have met many potential adopters who ask for a cat they can immediately pick up and cuddle. Just a word of advice: most cats do not like to be picked up by strangers. They want to come to you on their own terms. One other bit of caution, please, do not adopt a cat because your child likes their looks. Just as with any successful human relationship, we must find that best personality match with our pets.
Any animal you decide to welcome into your home has its breed characteristics as well as its individual quirks. It is up to parents to lay down the rules for children on how to meet their pet’s needs and respect their boundaries. The adoption process itself can be treated as a learning opportunity. I have watched many parents allow their kids to chase a cat around an adoption space even though the cat is clearly walking away or try to pick a cat up around its belly or pat it on the back roughly rather than petting it gently. If you do not already know, you can educate yourself as to good feline handling practices. According to Safe Play with Kids, slow introductions like sitting quietly on the floor and extending your hand slowly toward it is the best way to get to know a cat. All early interactions – handling and holding – should be supervised and children should be taught the warning signs for when a cat has had enough or is getting over stimulated. In the early days, playing games with a wand rather than hands is probably the best strategy and the kitty should be given places where it can retreat. The litter box and maybe even eating time should be off limits.
If this sounds too regimented, don’t worry. With just a bit of patience and planning, you can give your children a loyal, loving companion, and many good life and learning experiences. Go for it!
About the Author – Alberta Frost a lifelong cat owner and volunteer at King Street Cats.